Monday, September 3, 2012

Fire Water Burn

There’s something I don’t understand. It’s a sentiment that has been bugging me since I read my first book on Wicca. I didn’t really believe it when I first read it, and I believe it even less now that I’ve really thought about it.

I’m talking about the rule that says (paraphrasing, of course), “Never blow out candles because it offends the element of Fire to be using Air to put it out.” Why do I not agree with this?
First, it’s counter-intuitive. The very first act of magic that any child in America uses is blowing out the candles on their birthday cake while making a wish. Not so much witchcraft as wish-craft, but it’s still one of the most common forms of folk magic we use in modern society. When I was a kid, blowing out candles granted wishes, it made magic. I think this explains the rule not meshing with my core beliefs.

Another reason is that Fire is a very interesting element. It cannot survive without Air and Earth (in the form of burnable fuel), and Water (which is chemically made up of flammable gases) puts it out. Fire has a very interesting relationship with the other three elements and its one that needs to be taken into consideration when pondering this rule.   

Let’s look at what blowing out a candle does. If the fire were large, adding wind from one direction would push the flames onto new fuel, spreading the fire and making it larger. In the case of a single, candle’s flame, it pushes the flame off its fuel source, extinguishing the flame since there is no other fuel source directly behind it.  This is why it takes special effort to extinguish multiple candles on a birthday cake.  

The preferred method for extinguishing candles in Wicca 101 books is through snuffing. Either with a snuffer made for that purpose, with the tip of your athame (which just gets it all black and waxy), or (my least favorite) by pinching with wetted fingers. When I tried to believe this, I used my athame to snuff them out precisely once (I hated what it did to the blade and vowed to never do it again). I have a healthy fear of the power of fire, I don’t even test the iron by the lick and touch method (I won’t even use hot styling methods on my hair anymore), so the pinching method was out. So I bought a candle snuffer. But what does snuffing do? It removes the Air that feeds the Fire. Therefore, you are still vanquishing Fire through manipulation of Air.

You can’t get away from using other elements to extinguish Fire. Camp fires are put out with a combination of Water and Earth used to smother the flames. If using Air to extinguish Fire offends it, then shouldn’t it also be offended when you safely put out any Fire using any of the more natural methods available to us to do so?

The most ridiculous thing I’ve seen as a way to “avoid blowing out a candle” is someone waving their hand over it to create enough air flow to blow the candle out. That’s still using Air, so it’s just as “bad” and it looks ridiculous. Though they probably thought I was an uneducated philistine for blowing mine out.

Anyway, back to my birthday cake analogy. If magic is supposed to be a combination of your own will and the power of the world around you (however you quantify that power or how you choose to manipulate it), then you are only adding more of yourself to it by adding your breath to the equation. Breathing techniques are very popular in many forms of the modern Neo-Pagan movement, most of these are taken from Eastern influences, though you might be surprised that the Odic breath was the breath of life in Norse mythology (though there is some discrepancy if Odin gave the Odic breath, or if it was Freya’s vanished husband Od, or even if Odin is Od) and are used to quiet the mind in preparation for ritual and some are used to raise energy in a more subdued way than through chanting or dancing. If you finish everything by blowing out the candle, you’re just adding more of your own power to the spell…and isn’t that what magical techniques are about anyway? Making spells more personal and more effective? 

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy, 

BellaDonna Saberhagen


  1. Great post! I completely agree that it is ok to blow out a candle, but I've never been quite able to articulate why. This post gives many good reasons that I agree with.

  2. I'm in your camp on this, and you've articulated your thoughts very well.